ANTIGONISH, NS — StFX X-Women basketball head coach Lee Anna Osei hasn’t let the pandemic slow her down. In fact, she established and founded the Black Canadian Coaches Association (BCCA), a newly formed not-for-profit organization committed to providing a platform for Black Canadians in sport.
“I wanted some way of filling the voids for People of Colour in our sport community at the grassroots, collegiate, and high-performance levels,” comments Osei, who recently completely her second full season as head coach of the X-Women.
“It is also difficult to support and communicate with one another, and with the tragic events of racial violence that took place earlier this year, I think it really became clear to many people across our country, and in our sports community, that there is a lot of work to be done.”
Creating a tangible platform – a website to disrupt the negative narratives and instead celebrate the stories and accomplishments of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour [BIPOC] in the sports industry was the first step. “It is about coming together, along with our allies, as one broader sport community to identify, understand, and make a commitment to eradicate systemic and institutional oppression,” Osei noted.
It is also about celebration. Lee Anna looks to the Black Business & Professional Association (BBPA) Harry Jerome Awards, an annual gala established in memory of Harry Jerome, an outstanding African Canadian Olympic athlete, scholar and social advocate, as the gold standard for celebrating Black excellence.
Osei notes, “Harry Jerome’s role in Canadian sport gave him that platform, but I think we have fallen short in celebrating people of colour in the many facets of our sport industry – like our Olympians, our small business owners, our up-and-coming prospective and current athletes – who are all forging new and historic paths for People of Colour to aspire towards.”
“Looking at this past decade there has been some monumental Black role models in sport, including Olympian performances by athletes like Andre De Grasse, the appointment of Rowan Barrett as General Manager of Basketball Canada, and the establishment of the Michael Pinball Clemons Foundation to support marginalized communities through educational and recreational programming,” continues Osei. “Visibility is important, and it further promotes sport as a tool for social, cultural, educational and physical advancements, especially amongst racialized communities and our youth.”
It is these individuals who inspire Lee Anna and others to move forward with this initiative and to find ways for People of Colour and allies to come together not just in times of tragedy, but to work together towards a more inclusive and equitable society.
Osei stresses that the BCCA is not just for BIPOC stakeholders, it is for everyone who supports the goal of attaining racial equity in our Canadian sport community. The three objectives of the Black Canadian Coaches Association are celebration, advocacy though allyship, and networking.
In meetings with her fellow coaching colleagues across the country, it became clear that although these conversations are important and necessary, the focus should also be on addressing how to identify systemic anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism within Canadian post-secondary athletic institutions and other high-performance streams, and to implement structural changes.
Osei links the structural changes needed to collecting evidence-based research, something that has never been done on a large scale for BIPOC members in Canadian sports. “Working alongside our sport governance and member institutions can bring about historic, positive change,” she says.
The group has launched an initiative called ‘The Charter for Racial Equity in Canadian Post-Secondary Athletic Institutions’. The Racial Equity Project involves the enlistment of a top Canadian Diversity and Inclusion firm, leading academic researchers specializing in race and sport, and the creation of an ad-hoc task force to distribute questionnaires to former and current Black and Indigenous student-athletes, coaches and executives in 2020-21. From the project the group will create a list of recommendations that address how to ensure the ongoing safety, support, and empowerment of BIPOC members within Canadian intercollegiate sports.
Osei has reached out to members at both U SPORTS and the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) with the goal of working together to help reshape policies and practices both at the national and conference level. She says the call to action was well received, and now the challenge is fundraising to get the project officially started.
Within their the call to action the BCCA recommends that every institution have a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) committee, professionally mandated training for sport coaches and executives, as well as a reshaping of policies such as hiring processes and ensuring candidates of racialized backgrounds are at the very least interviewed.
Another consideration for change would be to look at athletic financial award (AFA) policies which currently have minimum grade standards for both entering and returning student-athletes in order to receive financial assistance. Osie comments that, “The AFA policy is a perfect example of systemic anti-Black racism at play, where a policy that was meant to assist student-athletes, actually marginalizes those who are most vulnerable. It is only compounded by low socio-economic status, a lack of structural support policies, and learning disabilities.”
A timely article recently released by the CBC outlined the dim numbers of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in leadership positions at the U SPORTS level, and spoke to the necessity of rethinking practices within our collegiate athletic institutions.
The Racial Equity Project fundraising goal is $40,000, and the BCCA has reached out to U SPORTS and CCAA member institutions for literal and financial buy-in towards this cause. Any excess fundraising dollars will go towards the development of culturally responsive anti-racism and mental health resources for all student-athletes, coaches and executives. The group would also like to establish an endowment fund for prospective Black and Indigenous student-athletes entering college and university. “It is going to be challenging for young people of colour in a post-pandemic world,” notes Osei.
“I am proud to report that my own institution, StFX University, is the first school to commit financially to the Racial Equity Project. A complete list of supportive institutions and organizations will be published on our website,” Osei added.
Lee Anna notes it has been a busy last few months while managing her young StFX women’s basketball team, but cites the extra time during COVID-19 has been well-spent. “I was grateful that Leo [MacPherson] opened the door for me to coach at StFX University. It is rare to have a Black female in a head coaching position at a Canadian university, and my faith has always guided me towards using my platform to inspire transformational change for People of Colour and our sport community at large.”
Osei says that now is the time to act, “We cannot wait for the uncertain future of college and university campuses; our sport leaders need to be active agents in changing our sporting culture for the betterment of all.”
Anyone interested in the Racial Equity Project and the goals and initiatives of the Black Canadian Coaches Association can visit the website at www.thebcca.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.
– T. Bennett
Information from StFX Athletics and the BCCA contributed to this post.